The three main goals of the new ESL Academy at the University of Colorado Denver – to provide English language fluency, university degree preparation and a home away from home – were on full display Wednesday for the ESL Academy’s open house on the 16th Street Mall.
The brightly colored and comfortably appointed 12,000-square-foot space on the third floor of Independence Plaza was filled with international students already taking advantage of the ESL Academy’s innovative language programs.
Chancellor Jerry Wartgow and Provost Rod Nairn joined Assistant Vice Chancellor for International Affairs Carolyn North, newly appointed ESL Director Rebecca Fisher, City of Denver representatives and ESL Academy faculty and staff for a festive open house that included international-flavored appetizers and a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Wartgow called the new space, which hosts English as a Second Language courses in eight-week sessions, an “incredible facility” that extends CU Denver’s education corridor that links downtown to the main Denver campus.
“We’re counting on you to go out and be great representatives of our university, your culture and your country,” the chancellor said. “We will do our best to provide the most outstanding, state-of-the-art education possible.”
Wartgow noted that the university’s international student population has increased 23 percent from last year to this year. He called the students, who enroll in the ESL Academy as university students and begin preparation to enter degree programs, “ambassadors not only of the university, but of the city and the state.”
Nairn shared his personal experience of coming to the United States more than 35 years ago from his native Scotland. He said the experience broadens one’s horizons and benefits the students and faculty across the university. “A big part of what we’re all about is diversity and you bring a whole set of perspectives to that. Everybody benefits … in terms of exposure to international ideas and different cultural perspectives.”
Nairn said the university has grown from 3 percent international students a few years ago to 6.5 percent currently. The university will likely reach its goal of 10 percent international students well before the targeted 2020, he said.
Fisher said English is the “lingua franca” that unites the globe. “English unites people from disparate cultures, politics and religions,” she said. “It’s a critical component in today’s education of tomorrow’s leaders. We are so proud to facilitate this process.”
Full-time ESL students take classes in the academy for four to five hours a day. Five levels of instruction are available, with core courses in listening/speaking, reading/writing and grammar.
Gabrielle Mattioda, of Brazil, is among the 60 international students already enrolled in the ESL Academy. She is taking courses while applying to enter the CU Denver Executive MBA Degree program.
“It’s a great opportunity to learn English and about American culture,” Mattioda said. “It’s different than the other English courses. Here you get to learn about the culture with the language.”
David Clubb, senior director in the Office of International Affairs, said the academy is already growing faster than expected. “Our goal was to start with 30 students and we started with 60. That shows the demand is out there.”
The goal is to eventually serve at least 200 international students.
When that happens, North, who originated the idea for the academy, will surely smile even more brightly than she did at the open house.
She summed up the feeling at the open house by saying, “Our students are happy here, our faculty are happy here and we plan a long and happy life in this space.”
(Photo: From left, ESL Academy Director Rebecca Fisher, Provost Rod Nairn, Chancellor Jerry Wartgow, Assistant Vice Chancellor for International Affairs Carolyn North and Senior Director of the Office of International Affairs David Clubb cut the ribbon of the new ESL Academy on the 16th Street Mall.)